April 28 2015 05:22 PM

UCSD composer and professor honored for Xiaoxiang

UCSD professor and composer Lei Liang

A local composer and UC San Diego professor was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Lei Liang, composer of Xiaoxiang, a concerto for alto saxophone and orchestra, was named a finalist for the prestigious prize, which was awarded last week to Julia Wolfe, for her folk-classical piece Anthracite Fields

Liang says in an email to CityBeat that simply being nominated for the prize is an honor.

"I was completely surprised" about being named a finalist, he says. "In fact, one of my Ph.D. students found out about the prize before I did. 

"At first when I received congratulatory email messages and Facebook postings, I felt rather confused and puzzled," he continues. "It is a prize that is more like a lifetime achievement award. I really feel very fortunate and humbled to receive this nomination now."

Xiaoxiang is a concerto based on the killing of a woman's husband by a local official during the Chinese cultural revolution. The piece is based on the woman, who sought revenge against the official by wailing like a ghost in the woods outside of his house, and eventually they both went insane.

Liang describes Xiaoxiang as an "anti-concerto," because the soloist's music is marked by silences and the use of a detached mouthpiece. The work also uses electronically transformed sounds to create the effect of the woman's ghostly wails.

"Out of the works I composed last year, this piece was especially ambitious and personally meaningful for me, so I thought it represents very well my latest efforts," Liang says.

Lei Liang is presenting a one-hour musical performance at 2:30 p.m. on May 2, as part of the Filmatic Film Festival at the Calit Atkinson Hall Theater at UCSD. It's called "Hearing Landscapes," and will feature a multimedia performance inspired by Chinese landscape painter Huang Binhong. 

Email jefft@sdcitybeat.com or follow him at @1000TimesJeff